Is It Time To Wash Your Reusable Grocery Bags?

Perhaps like me you’ve heard a news story about the importance of washing your reusable cloth grocery bags.  Those news stories remind us of the danger of possible germs that might grow from meat juices or bad fruit or vegetables that can leak onto the bag and that’s not good!

And then, perhaps again like me, you hear the story and think, boy I should do that.  And then you go on your merry way for many more weeks using your cloth bags and not really giving any further thought to cleaning them.

how to wash your reusable cloth grocery bags

This week, however, I did finally give the subject some extra thought and started to do a little research.  What turned up in the research, however, seemed to me to be just a little too much worry.  Many of them said to wash your bags after every shopping trip – AND – not to keep them in the trunk of your vehicle.

Now, I’ll be completely honest here.  If it was up to me to wash my cloth grocery bags after every shopping trip and to not keep them in the trunk, well the bags would probably never again make it to the store.   I’ll also be very honest and say that I’ve been using cloth bags for at least four or five years now, have never washed them, and ALWAYS keep them in the trunk.  And we’ve never had a single problem.

Some folks might say we’re on borrowed time, but I think a few other factors come into play some of which are:

~ I buy much of my chicken, hamburg, and fish in frozen form at Aldi so they are not in a moist and juicy form that could leak.

~ I live close to the stores where I shop so the food is never in my bags for very long.

~ I live in a climate where I worry about the cold more than I worry about the heat.

~ When I buy meat that’s not frozen, the cashier always wraps it in a plastic bag first before putting it in my cloth bag.

~ When I buy fruits or vegetables, they are also almost always in another bag that then goes into the cloth bag.

But even in spite of those reasons, I started to think that maybe it was time to wash my cloth bags.  When I looked at some of my older bags, they were looking a little grungy from the wear and tear and I thought a trip through the washing machine might do them good.

The Part That Worked

I picked two of my cloth bags that were the oldest and got them ready for a cleaning.  First, I removed the plastic inserts from the bottom of my bags. They were getting pretty worn out too so I cut myself a couple new inserts for the bottom of my bags from black foam board.  So far, so good.

wash bags 2

Then I turned my bags inside out, and put them in the washing machine with a load of towels.  I washed them on warm water with my homemade powdered laundry soap.

After the load was done, I ran them through the dryer and again, everything was so far, so good.  But I did think the fabric seemed just a little more limp than before and it’s kind of nice when your cloth bags are just a little more sturdy.

And that is when I got the bright idea that I would iron my bags.  After all, the subtitle of this blog is “Bright Ideas for Homemade Living”, right?

Maybe that would make them more sturdy again.  And I would try a homemade starch recipe too!  Yes, a very bright idea!

The Part that Did NOT Work

OK, here’s the main part of this story.  It’s to warn you that if you’re thinking about ironing your cloth grocery bags – DON’T!  It is not a bright idea.  The bright idea would have been to go in search of a care label.

As soon as I laid the iron on my cloth grocery bag it began to melt!  Apparently there’s some kind of coating on those bags that can’t take the heat of an iron.  AND – my cloth bags are blue and whatever was melting got the bottom soleplate of my iron all blue and gunky!

What a bad idea ironing my bags was.  That’s when I went in search of a fabric care label in my bag and sure enough, it clearly said, “Do Not Iron”.  Oops.  Guess I should have looked for that first.

how to wash your reusable cloth grocery bags

Of course the label also said to wash in cold water and to line dry, neither of which I did and yet my bags survived the washer and dryer just fine.   And do they really think we are going to hand wash our bags and line dry them after every shopping trip?  Highly doubtful that’s going to happen in most households. (and what is 100% Non-Woven Polypropylene anyway??)

My other bit of good news was that while the blue gunky stuff on my iron was still warm, I was able to wipe it all off my iron’s soleplate without a problem.  I will, however, have to buy a new ironing board cover because I can’t get rid of the crazy blue iron shaped stain that was left behind.

how to wash your reusable cloth grocery bags
In Conclusion

So what did I learn from my adventures in washing cloth grocery bags?

~ A trip through the washer and dryer didn’t seem to hurt my bags and I should probably do it more often.

~ I will never again try to iron a reusable cloth grocery bag.  Never Ever.

~ If I grow weary of a certain worn out floppy bag I’ll just stop being a cheapskate and spend 99 cents on a new one!

~ Some bright ideas work and some don’t, but they are all learning experiences.

How about you?  Have you ever tried washing your reusable cloth grocery bags?  How often do you do it and what’s your method?
I’m kind of curious what other folks are doing so feel free to share in a comment below.  🙂



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  1. I have made most of my bags, I am not a fan of the recycled plastic bottle bags the stores sell. I colour co-ordinator my bags. Green for produce, red for meats, blue for frozen , white for dairy, grey for can/dry goods. Makes it easier to unpack.

    1. I love the idea of color coordinating your bags Cheryl! Hopefully the store cashiers can figure that out too (or maybe you are doing your own bagging).

  2. Ditto for the “calico” girls. Re-purposing old jeans & shirts will work too, and it’s easy to throw in the wash.
    – Use common sense on when to wash them.
    – I always hang my bags on the front door handle to remember taking them back out to my car.
    – Bag Fabric (the one you melted): I just bought some at the fabric store last month to use for making gift bags.
    It was so much fun, I also ended up making a custom organizer insert for my car for that storage bin (clutter magnet) between the front seats.

  3. I do the same as Ann. But … I make mine out of upholstery material. At any given time at our local fabric shop you can get a meter for $0.50.

    It’s obviously a little more work making them yourself but they are extremely tough and withstand all kinds of washing, drying and abuse.

    Because I get the material so cheap they are also less expensive than what I would pay for a bag here in Canada.

  4. Hi. Im from downunder and worry more about the heat t b an the coldd. However I made my own bags from calico. I use the principal that when they are getting grubby its time to throw them in the machine. So far so good.

  5. I’ve washed mine, and they are limper that’s for sure. I really only wash mine when it’s laundry day and one happens to be in the house. I’m like you I worry more about the cold than the heat, I do however by mostly fresh meat. When I bag it up I put it in a separate bag then put that bag in my reusable one. It helps eliminate leaks.

  6. I don’t have any comment on shopping bags, but I do on your iron. White vinegar will clean it up nicely if it is still having any trouble with residue. Oh, I guess I do have a comment about the shipping bags… They are fun to use in sewing projects as substrate layers and you can melt them on purpose, paint them, sew through them… They can be lots of fiber filled fun. Lol

    1. That’s interesting! I thought as my bag was kind of melting that it smelled like “Wonder Under”, the fusible webbing you can use for sewing and craft projects.

  7. Since the reason for reusable bags is to be more conservation minded, why in the heck would you wash them after every use or even once a month? I agree with you Beverly, that once every few years is enough unless, of course, meat juice leaks into the bag. There are too many scare tactics in the media.